Asia is arguably the most diverse, exciting and beautiful continent in the world. Ranging from the religious haven of India to the technological marvels of Japan, there’s something here for every kind of traveller.
With that being said, there are a few things you’ll want to bear in mind to ensure a safe trip. Here are some common mistakes tourists make in Asia, as well as how to avoid them yourself.
Playing in traffic
It’s no secret that the roads in certain parts of Asia are dangerous. Countries such as Thailand and Vietnam are particularly difficult to traverse, with hundreds dying in accidents every year. Yet tourists still try and take on the traffic alone with no previous experience, sometimes with dire consequences.
With a high risk of injury – or even fatalities – and extortionate medical bills without insurance, driving isn’t worth it. Public transport and even walking are much safer options.
Depending on how you lose it, misplacing your suitcase is one of the most common – and potentially costly – issues travellers face. It’s also one of the most complicated to deal with, especially when it comes to insurance.
If your belongings go missing through no fault of your own (not showing up on the luggage carousel at the airport, for example), you’ll have a valid claim. Leave them in plain sight for anyone to see, though, and it’s considered fair game. You unfortunately won’t be covered in instances like the latter.
Disrespecting the culture
Wherever you go, make sure you follow the cultural norms. Religion and history are incredibly important in many countries in Asia, and the culture has been formed and embraced over many years. Interact with locals to find out just how to understand and respect the culture, whether it be through greetings, food or even the importance of taking your shoes off before entering certain buildings.
Missing out on street food
Speaking of food, many travellers avoid street stalls in favour of actual restaurants. It’s their loss – street food in Asia offers perhaps the best dishes in the entire world. Whether it’s authentic curries and paneer in India, sushi in Japan or pho in Vietnam, you can purchase countless delectable dishes from the streets at staggeringly low prices.
As just one example, Jianbing is one of the most popular choices in China, consumed by locals for breakfast throughout the country. Known as Chinese crepes, these little wraps are filled with scallions, cilantro, lettuce and chilli sauce, creating a fragrant and delicious snack. Or in Vietnam, I just can’t get enough of the roadside Pho.
Heading off the beaten track
Don’t become too confident with your exploring skills, as parts of Asia are uncharted, treacherous and potentially dangerous. Many travellers think they know better and wind up falling into dire consequences, some of which you’ve likely seen for yourself on the news. There’s no area worth exploring without an official tour guide – leave it to the professionals if you want to head off the beaten track.
Being silly with money
When travelling in Asia, you’re going to want to master the art of haggling. Many vendors, shop assistants and even taxi drivers will hike their prices up if and when they realise you’re a traveller who doesn’t know better, so be prepared to negotiate.
So long as you’re kind, respectful and approachable, you’ll quickly lower the costs down to something more sensible – sometimes by as much as 50%.
Ways to stay safe whilst travelling Southeast Asia
Don’t go anywhere you shouldn’t
As previously mentioned, it’s important you don’t follow through with an urge to explore areas you aren’t clued up on. You could become lost and/or injured, and when in remote areas, things won’t be easy. Find a reputable tour guide and explore with a knowledgeable helping hand, instead.
Stop flaunting your valuables
Whatever you do, make sure you don’t do anything to stand out glaringly from the crowd. Opportunists and thieves will spot you from a mile away if you’re flaunting your expensive gadgets or jewellery, so keep them hidden when in public.
Bag snatching is becoming worryingly popular in Southeast Asia, so consider investing in a cross-body bag.
Spend your budget wisely
Don’t splash out unnecessarily. Be sure to haggle your way through Southeast Asia with almost anyone – you’ll likely be paying a lot less with hardly any hassle. When it comes to accommodation, consider hostels.
Although not at luxurious as some five-star resorts, it’s here you’ll get a chance to make friends you could stick with for the rest of your trip, and sometimes even longer.
Embrace different cultures
Instead of turning a blind eye to the abundance of culture on offer, be sure to embrace it. Try local delicacies – regardless of how strange they may be – visit historical relics and landmarks, and interact with locals to learn more about their history. Many people are more than willing to tell stories and give advice about their hometown.
Most importantly, stay generally vigilant throughout your Southeast Asian travels. Whether it be keeping a close eye on your bags or recognising signs of danger, you’ll want to be careful in certain areas. So long as you ensure your own safety as well as the safety of those you’re with, you’ll be in for an unforgettable trip in perhaps the most beautiful region in the world.